Friday, September 10, 2010

Detweiler Natural Area

We're on a nice little roll here in central Pennsylvania. This past weekend was yet another one of those delightfully crisp late summer weekends that felt more autumnal than it did hazy, hot and humid. So it didn't take much arm twisting for my good friend, and fellow Pro Staffer, Glen G to talk me into a few days of geeking around in the Rothrock State Forest just south of State College while we camped at Penn-Roosevelt State Park.

Disclaimer: Before starting any hike in this area make sure your camera lens' manual/auto focus switch is in the "auto" position. Don't ask me how I know that.

Our goal for Saturday was to hike the Detweiler Run Natural Area from the Alan Seeger Natural Area back to our campsite at Penn-Roosevelt, a distance of approx. 6 miles with a total elevation gain of 1,200 feet -most of that would be accrued climbing over the southwestern prong of Thickhead Mountain.

The Alan Seeger Natural Area is a small stand of old hemlocks and dense, almost impenetrable stand of 6' high rhododendrons located at the head of Standing Stone Creek in Huntington County. These trees are thought to have survived the summer of 1644 when most of Pennsylvania is believed to have burnt over. They were named by Henry Shoemaker, an early member of the Pennsylvania State Forest Commission, for a young poet who served in WWI. You haven't really seen this place until you've seen it in early July when the whole area is a maze of pink & white rhododendron blossoms. Here Glen is pondering what a waste of good forest products it is to leave these valuable trees standing.

After leaving the Alan Seeger NA behind we picked up the blue/yellow blazes of the Greenwood Spur section of the Mid State Trail on Monroe Kulp's old logging grade. The Greenwood Spur here forms one of the boundries of the Thickhead Mountain Wild Area. The grade here is a remnant of the old narrow gauge railroad that ran all the way into Milroy. So, how in the world did these old trees survive with a logging railroad running close by, not to mention a sawmill at Milligan Mills, and all those charcoal flats up on Grass Mountain and over at Greenwood Iron Furnace?

Shortly, we crossed Detweiler Run on a wooden bridge and followed the stream up through the valley proper.

We continued up Detweiler Valley for 4 miles passing a few scattered hunting camps, log bridges, primitive campsites, charcoal flats and those ubiquitous rhododendrons, hemlocks and tulip trees. Detweiler Run itself was mostly hidden under a canopy of rhododendrons. It was running fairly low at this time of the year and, like all the other streams in the area, could benefit from a good shot of rain.

At this point we come to the northern terminus of the Greenwood Spur and continue straight ahead on the orange blazed Mid State Trail.

Shortly before we came to this trail junction Glen nearly stepped right on top of a highly aggressive Eastern Diamondback Timber Rattlesnake. That viper then grabbed hold of Glen in it's jaws and shook him back and forth like a rag doll before tossing him back into the thicket of rhododendrons while I bravely tried to dose the snake with pepper spray. Luckily for us, Les Stroud came along just in the nick of time and killed the rattler and ate it raw.
-Partly true story.

Stumbling upon that viper was like coming across the Prince of Darkness himself laying across the trail and both Glen and myself agreed that snake had been stalking us for miles. We felt lucky to get out of there with only a few scratches. And no, I don't take picture of snakes -it would be bad spiritual karma.

Sometimes the trail ran hard against Detweiler Run, sometimes not. That's the run, shrunken by drought, right in front of Glen in the above shot. This part of the trail was easy walking after the old RR grade evaporated but our luck in that regards would soon run out.

As we hiked further up the drainage the trail made an excursion up the right bank of the run, crossed a pipeline right-of-way and turned into a river of rocks; big ones, small ones, loose ones, pointy ones, round ones, slippery ones, etc, that were once the bed of a narrow gauge railroad bed owned by the Reichley brothers of Milroy, Pa. This section was only about a mile long but it really slowed down our pace. I can't imagine trying to walk out of here with a sprained (or worse) ankle.

Glen said he once spent two days and one long night broken down & busted in the Sonoran Desert without any food or water and this was a piece of cake compared to that.
-Mostly true story.

Just when you think you've had about enough rocks for the day the trail makes a 90 degree turn south and slabs the south prong of Thickhead Mountain on a well maintained trail with a traditional tread. It's a relatively easy climb of about 600 vertical feet. I was kind of hoping for a nice big view once we got to the top but, lamentably, there was none.

A much steeper decent down the other side of Thickhead Mountain brings us back to our campsite in Penn-Roosevelt State Park and lots of thirst quenching beer and whiskey. I know I speak for all hikers and backpackers when I say that there's nothing better to slack your thirst after a long, hot, grueling hike that a tin cup full of ice cold whiskey. And yes I know alcoholic beverages are not allowed in Pennsylvania's state parks. Not all rules are good rules.

I don't even know who I am anymore.

Glen G doing what he does best, serving up grub when you need it the most. Glen use to be trail boss on the Oregon Trail.


The lake is currently drawn down due to water seepage below the dam breast. No repairs will be scheduled until funding is in place. In other words, don't hold your breath.